5 Tips for Cold Weather Running

5 Tips for Cold Weather Running

I will be the first to admit that I am a big wimp when it comes to cold weather – and to voluntarily go for a run in the cold and snow?  That’s what crazy people do.  Up until this winter, I adamantly refused to run outside once the temperatures got much below, oh 40 degrees.  And even in the 40s, I tended to hit the treadmill.  But, I’ve come to realize that while I might not enjoy it as much as I do during other seasons, running during these cold, snowy winter months will ultimately make me an ever stronger runner come springtime.  And, who doesn’t want that?  I’ve found a few tricks that have helped me as the temperatures drops and the snow accumulates.  Strangely enough, I’m kind of learning to enjoy running outside this time of year – I guess I’m turning into one of those crazy people!

winter running

1.  Yaktrax.  Living in Michigan, I am no stranger to snow and ice – and in large part, those were a big reason why I avoided running outside in the winter months.  I’m so clumsy that it was a recipe for distaster!  Obviously, not a weather concern for some parts of the country, but very much a reality for others.  I bought a pair of Yaktrax earlier this year, and they have been a lifesaver.  They strap on over your regular running shoes and provide traction over the slippery terrain.  To be clear, running in snow and ice is still a lot harder, but I don’t so much feel like I’m going to fall flat on my face when I’m wearing these.  Amazon is a great resource for buying them, especially since a lot of places start to sell out pretty frequently at this point in the year.


2.  Mid- to late-afternoon runs are great.  In the summer, I’m all about getting out the door bright and early to beat the heat, but come winter, I take advantage of the chance to sleep in a bit!  By mid-afternoon, temperatures are generally going to be around their high for the day, so if you’re trying to avoid the cold, skip the morning run, and shoot for the afternoon.  A bonus is that ice and snow may be melting, or at the very least, people will have had more time to clear their sidewalks.  There’s also going to be more light during the day (and here in Michigan, any chance to soak up a little sun this time of year is more than welcomed!).  If you are running in the hours when it’s dark, make sure that people can see you – invest in a headlamp or reflective tape to put on your clothes, and avoid wearing lots of dark clothing.

3.  Dress appropriately.  My gut instinct when it’s cold is to layer, layer, layer – which is true some of the time.  Start with a wicking layer to pull the sweat away from your skin, then layer over top of that, ideally something that will help protect you from the wind.  Try to avoid shoes with a lot of mesh material if you’re running in snow and slush.  I swear by Smartwool socks this time of year.  Keep your head and hands warm, as you’ll easily lose a lot of heat.  I personally prefer a warm headband over a full-on hat, otherwise I get overheated. Experiment and learn what works best for your body.

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Runner’s World has some great guidelines for what to wear at various temperatures that I’ve referenced a lot these past couple of months:

30 degrees: 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest keep your core warm. Tights (or shorts, for polar bears).
10 to 20 degrees: 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer, and wind pants over the tights.
0 to 10 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket. Windbrief for the fellas.
Minus 10 to 0 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.
Minus 20 degrees: 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses. Or, says Arribas, “Stay inside.”

After you’re done running, get changed sooner rather than later, otherwise your wet clothes will leave you feeling a lot colder as they dry.  Trust me, I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.

4.  Hydrate.  In the summer months, it’s a lot easier to remember to hydrate when it’s 90 degrees, humid, and sweat is everywhere.  It can be a lot harder to think about hydrating when it’s cold, but it’s still equally important.  Yes, you still sweat when it’s cold – it’s just not as noticeable.  I don’t worry so much about carrying anything during runs shorter than 4 miles, but much more than that, and I plan to bring my Camelbak filled with room temperature water.

5.  JFDI (just f’ing DO it).  Yes, I dread putting on twenty layers of clothes and trudging through several inches of snow.  But, the more I think about getting my booty out the door, the harder it gets.  It just becomes a matter of stop thinking about it, get ready, and just GO.  Leaving my warm house is not going to get any easier the longer I wait, so just make it happen.  The sooner I start, the sooner I’m done!

And, like anything else – be willing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, but know your limits.  This year, I’ve been much more willing to brave colder temperatures, but once it drops much below the 20s, I’m heading indoors.  In large part, I know that air much colder than that is just too hard on my lungs…but, again, I’m still a wimp when it comes to winter.  Above all else, be safe!

What winter running tip would you add to the list?

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